Leah Comerford: A Way of Looking

by | Jan 2, 2015 | Arts and Entertainment

Leah Comerford in her workshop. Photo copyright Susan Larson.

Update: January 2, 2016
I was in Art First over the holidays, and Leah Comerford was serving as docent for the day. Our visit reminded me of the story I wrote about Leah and her art in 2014. I’m sharing it again here. -Susan

When Leah Comerford was a little girl, she liked to look for shapes and pictures in marble, the way some people look at clouds. As an artist who embellishes gourds and creates necklaces, she uses that same way of looking.

Comerford was 25 years into her career before she began making jewelry. She’d been buying tubes of beads to use on gourds, but that required only a few. “My collection had grown and grown,” Comerford said. “I had all these beautiful beads that needed something created with them.”

Throughout the years, Comerford occasionally tried making necklaces, but she never felt they were right. “After 25 years, I hit on the right combination and it finally came together,” she said.

View a Photo Galley of Leah’s Work on Facebook

A bedroom in Comerford’s home is her dedicated bead room, and serves as her necklace workshop. Once she begins work, she makes design decisions as she goes. “Generally inspiration comes from a pendant itself,” she said. “Then I shop in my own home.” Her workshop includes cabinets and drawers containing thousands of neatly organized pendants and beads, including Swarovski crystals, aventurine sticks, cubic zirconia, quartz, jasper and more.

“When I’m looking at pendants, I’m looking for elements with interesting striations, colors, designs – a focal point,” Comerford said. She especially likes dichroic glass — glass that changes color in different lighting.

Leah starts by placing from 10 to 20 tubes of beads and bobbles on her desk, around the pendant she has chosen as the centerpiece of the necklace. She may use only half of the selection, but the process of looking – as with the marble of childhood — helps create the design.

“I’ll have a vague notion of what I want as I begin to work,” Comerford said. She sometimes calls her art “cooking soup, because I work for a while then taste it” – sit back and consider how it’s coming together and what she needs to do.

Comerford uses two main processes for her necklaces; bead-embroidery and stringing.

Embroidered necklaces take months to complete. “I only spend about one hour a day on embroidered necklaces, because the work is really hard on the eyes,” she said. “Generally the inspiration comes from a pendant.”

She will choose a cabochon – a bead, stone, gem or piece of glass with a flat back and no hole – lay it on a backing and look at the design element. She then places supplemental beads into the design. “You’re playing and you’re trying, and sometimes it’s very trying,” she laughed. “Each embroidered necklace is unique, and I only make about three a year,” she said.

“What I really love about embroidered necklaces is it’s like painting with beads,” she said. “I explore texture, color, line and symmetry.” Not all her creations are designed to be symmetrical – the same on each side – but when they are, Comerford finds satisfaction in the added challenge.

The second type of necklace is bead stringing. “These happen more quickly,” Comerford said. “I can make one in three days versus three months for the embroidered ones.”

Both processes require patience. “I’ve taught myself how to do it right,” Comerford said. “I’m a steady worker, ultra careful so that everything is tight and nothing comes apart when it’s finished.”

Comerford makes a pair of earrings to go with each necklace, and includes them for free in the purchase. “I make them simple, because the necklace is the star of the show,” she said.

Comerford’s jewelry, gourds, watercolors, pastels and books can be viewed on her website at http://www.picturetrail.com/leahgourds. They are available at Art First Gallery, 824 Caroline St., in Fredericksburg, and on Etsy at https://www.etsy.com/shop/ArtFirstGallery.

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These article were first published in Front Porch Fredericksburg. They are reprinted here with permission.

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